Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 11, 2007

Alexander Cockburn and Zbigniew Jaworowski

Filed under: Ecology — louisproyect @ 5:57 pm

Zbigniew Jaworowski

Alexander Cockburn in the 6/9/2007 Weekend edition of Counterpunch:

Take Warsaw-based Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, famous for his critiques of ice-core data. He’s devastating on the IPCC rallying cry that CO2 is higher now than it has ever been over the past 650,000 years. In his 1997 paper in the Spring 21st Century Science and Technology, he demolishes this proposition. In particular, he’s very good on pointing out the enormous inaccuracies in the ice-core data and the ease with which a CO2 reading from any given year is contaminated by the CO2 from entirely different eras. He also points out that from 1985 on there’s been some highly suspect editing of the CO2 data, presumably to reinforce the case for the “unprecedented levels” of modern CO2. In fact, in numerous papers prior to 1985, there were plenty of instances of CO2 levels much higher than current CO2 measurements, some even six times higher. He also points out that it is highly unscientific to merge ice-core temperature measurements with modern temperature measurements.

Cockburn failed to identify Jaworowski’s professional qualifications. He is in fact not a climatologist but a professor at the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection in Warsaw, Poland. He also fails to identify 21st Century Science and Technology as a publication of Lyndon Larouche’s bizarre ultrarightist cult that used to beat leftists up in the 1970s, provided snitches on the antinuclear movement to the Reagan administration, received paramilitary training from a KKK leader, blamed modern day capitalist ills on the Jews and Queen Elizabeth, etc.

Lyndon Larouche

In addition to the abovementioned article, Jaworowski also wrote “The Truth about Chernobyl is Told,” which claimed that fears about radiation illness were unfounded.

Twin brothers from Chernobyl (the healthy-looking one is deaf)

Here are some other gems from 21st Century Science and Technology:

Why Hanford’s Nuclear Waste Cleanup Wastes Your Money

It’s Time to Tell the Truth about the Health Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation

Lyndon Larouche Proposes a 25-Year Solution to the Energy Crisis

Terraforming Mars to Create a New Earth

Genetically Engineered Crops Can Feed the World!

From Zbigniew_Jaworowsk wiki:

Stephen Schneider said of him that “Jaworowski is perhaps even more contrarian than most, claiming that he can prove the climate is going to get colder through his work excavating glaciers on six different continents, which he says indicates what we should really be worrying about is ‘The approaching new Ice Age…’.”[2] Jaworowski wrote The current sunspot cycle is weaker than the preceding cycles, and the next two cycles will be even weaker. Bashkirtsev and Mishnich (2003)[3] expect that the minimum of the secular cycle of solar activity will occur between 2021 and 2026, which will result in the minimum global temperature of the surface air. The shift from warm to cool climate might have already started..

When approached to see if he would bet on future cooling, Jaworowski denied making any prediction, stating “I do not make my own detailed projections. In my paper I referred the reader to B&M paper, and that is all.”[3]

Jaworowski published several papers (Jaworowski, 20007; Jaworowski, 1999; Jaworowski, 1997) in 21st Century Science and Technology, a non-refereed magazine published by Lyndon LaRouche.[4]

From Jim Easter’s blog:

To honor exceptional achievement in mendacity, I would like to present the Golden Horseshoe Award to that writer who has out-performed his or her peers in density of false statements per column-inch. To receive the first Golden Horseshoe Award, I can think of no more worthy recipient than Zbigniew Jaworowski.

From Tim Lambert’s blog:

Jaworowski claims that rather that selecting the most accurate values, Callendar made an arbitrary selection to produce the result (increasing CO2) that he desired. Jaworowski has not a scrap of evidence for his claim and all other data supports Callendar. The green line shows measurements of CO2 concentration from ice cores at Law Dome. Notice how it agrees with the values Callendar chose and the red line of the Mauna Loa measurements. Jaworowski has an answer to this. The ice core measurements are fraudulent, as are the Mauna Loa measurements. Multiple independent ice core measurements agree with those from the Law Dome, so presumably Jaworowski believes that these are the product of a huge conspiracy as well. It should come as no surprise that Jaworowski’s theories were not published in a scientific journal, but in 21st Century, a magazine published by Lyndon LaRouche, renowned for his belief in various conspiracy theories.


June 10, 2007

Did Agrarian Capitalism Exist?

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 11:50 pm

(This is the second in a series of posts on the Brenner thesis)

In volume one of Capital, Marx distinguishes between absolute surplus value and relative surplus value. The first involves lengthening of the workday, while the latter involves improvements in technology like the steam engine or the computer. It is the latter form of capital accumulation that interests Robert Brenner and drives his search for its earliest occurrence as a kind of social evolutionary breakthrough. Once this property relationship became established, it served to open up a pathway for what amounts to a survival of the economic fittest, just as the reversible thumb and the oversized brain served Homo sapiens.

The means of production–not exactly revolutionary

For Brenner, the breakthrough occurred quite by accident in the British countryside in the late middle ages, just as a reversible thumb and oversized brain occurred with Lucy 3.2 million years ago. If Albert Einstein and George W. Bush are descendants of Lucy, so is the modern-day robotics-controlled assembly line of today a direct outcome of the advent of tenant farming back in the 15th century. Before farming was done on a cash basis, the peasants owned their own land and had no motivation to make improvements. They were the original hippies. But after the big commercial farms took over, nobody fooled around any more. The new owners were like heroes out of an Ayn Rand novel, who lashed land and worker mercilessly in the pursuit of profit. Everything we have today we owe to these pioneers of capitalism in the 15th century.

Despite the fact that this evolutionary model does not really work too well when adapted to human history, let’s accept it on its own terms and take a look at whether the relative surplus value creation model makes much sense when you go this far back in history.

In April 1993, Robert Albritton posed the question in The Journal of Peasant Studies: “Did Agrarian Capitalism Exist?” (It is unfortunately available only in print). In testing the Brenner thesis against relevant data, he came to the conclusion that it didn’t exist, at least not on Brenner’s terms. If you are looking for a social system in which labor has become commodified, you won’t find it in the time and place that Brenner identified with the birth of capitalism.

Brenner dates these qualitative changes as beginning in the fifteenth century, but Albritton finds evidence much to the contrary especially with respect to the definition of commodified labor-power. If this involves market coercion as opposed to the “extra-economic” forces of feudalism, then there is little evidence of an agrarian proletariat until the 19th century, nearly a half-millennium later.

According to Robert Allen, who Albritton regards as the best compiler of agricultural statistics in the 1500 to 1750 period, labor productivity was virtually identical in France and England in the year 1600–with France enjoying a small edge (1.45 to 1.43). Since the Brenner thesis is constantly comparing the two nations as a case study, one has to wonder why the transformation in class relations that began taking place 150 years earlier in Great Britain took so long to pay dividends.

Allen does point to increases in labor productivity on British farms in the 18th and 19th century, but concludes that it had nothing to do with the introduction of machinery or the exploitation of wage labor. Concurring with Brenner, Robert Allen argues that large farms were more efficient than small, family owned farms but not because their output was greater. The per-acre revenue of a small farm, defined as 50 to 100 acres, was 3.3481 while that of the largest farm was 2.8003. The big difference was the labor cost per acre, which was 0.9687 for a small farm and 0.5526 for a large farm. Lower labor costs was key, not machinery.

Both the big farm and the small farm used horse-drawn plows but the big farm could deploy them across larger areas. With a small farm, the entire family worked but in a large farm, only adult men were hired who were obviously more productive. You can only push a child just so far. In other words, it made little difference whether you were dealing with horses or men. Economies of scale meant that you could make more efficient use of muscle power, particularly through the use of gang labor. You could bring in a crew of men to work, for example, during a corn harvest. Seasonal labor could be used effectively in the big British farms in the 18th century just as was the case in the latifundias of Latin America through the 20th century. This is not exactly, however, what Marx had in mind when he spoke about revolutionizing the means of production. If competition was supposedly unleashed in the British countryside in the late 1400s like a genie from a bottle, it sure took a long time for the wishes to come true.

Even if you overlook the all-important criterion of mechanization, there is still the troubling question of to what degree wage labor existed in the British countryside. Again, the evidence weighs heavily against Brenner. According to G.E. Mingay, half of all farms in Great Britain in 1831 employed no labor outside members of the immediate family. Citing an 1878 study of land distribution in Great Britain, Mingay also concludes that 70 percent of tenant farms, the supposed sparkplug of capitalist growth, were less than 50 acres–by any definition a small farm. Moreover, only 18 percent were larger than 100 acres. In other words, at the height of the industrial revolution, 82 percent of British farms did not pass Robert Brenner’s stringent litmus test.

Furthermore, according to Ann Kussmaul, when farms did use outside laborers in the mid-18th century, up to one-half were so-called servants-in-husbandry who were hired on an annual contract, lived in the farmer’s house, and were paid room-and-board plus a little spending money. This sounds more like indentured servitude than wage labor. Albritton believes that once you take these two categories into account–family farms and servants-in-husbandry–no more than 30 percent of agricultural labor was done on the basis of wages.

As is so often the case with the Brenner camp, Ellen Meiksins Wood is more than happy to own up to these contradictions. If capitalism is a system that is by definition based on the exploitation of a proletariat, it doesn’t seem to matter that much if the proletariat is nonexistent. She writes:

Some people may be reluctant to describe this social formation as “capitalist,” precisely on the grounds that capitalism is, by definition, based on the exploitation of wage labor. That reluctance is fair enough—as long as we recognize that, whatever we call it, the English economy in the early modern period, driven by the logic of its basic productive sector, agriculture, was already operating according to principles and “laws of motion” different from those prevailing in any other society since the dawn of history. Those laws of motion were the preconditions—which existed nowhere else—for the development of a mature capitalism that would indeed be based on the mass exploitation of wage labor.

I think it is possible to view the changes in British farming as “different from those prevailing in any other society since the dawn of history” but you can say the very same thing about chattel slavery and the turning of Peru, Bolivia and Mexico into a vast mine operated on the basis of a mixture of forced and free labor. In any event, trying to project the norms of the mid 19th century on the late Middle Ages seems rather ill-advised to say the least.

It is only in the Brennerite universe that such controversial ideas about class can be put forward in the name of orthodoxy. In his essay on Brenner in “Eight Eurocentric Historians,” Jim Blaut draws out the peculiarities of the agrarian origins of capitalism thesis:

We come now to what is probably Brenner’s strangest proposition. His theory is self-consciously Marxist, and self-consciously grounded in class struggle. In Marxist theory, class struggle tends to produce advances in cultural evolution because, putting the matter simply, the exploiters lose. For Brenner, the ruling class was defeated to the extent that peasants secured their freedom from serfdom. But this did not bring about the collapse of feudalism as a mode of production. That occurred (in England) roughly one hundred years later, according to Brenner, and it occurred because the ruling class won the class struggle. Brenner argues that, if the peasants had really won in the 14th century, the result would have been, not rural capitalism, but a society of freeholding peasant proprietors. Because peasant proprietors (in Brenner’s thinking) are not innovative, are satisfied to have a bucolic existence on their subsistence holdings, this form of society would not have gone through a transformation to capitalism. Brenner now points to France and makes one of his limited (and invalid) comparisons. In France, he says (inaccurately), the peasants won definitively, so freeholding peasants really came to dominate the society, established cozy links with the crown against the landlords, and as a result managed to maintain their position. This explains why capitalism did not arise in France. In England, on the other hand, the peasants lost. They secured the ending of serfdom but they did not succeed in winning full proprietorship of their land: they remained tenants of the same landlords. As a result, says Brenner, there appeared a sub-class of peasants who parlayed tenancy into capitalist agriculture. They negotiated rents with the landlords, rented larger and larger holdings, hired labor, and so became capitalist farmers, paying a portion of their profits to the landlords just as modern small businesses pay rent to the owners of their factories and offices. For Brenner, this was the real cookpot of capitalism. So the fact that English peasants lost their class struggle is the crucial explanation for the ending of feudalism and the rising of capitalism. This turns the class-struggle theory on its head.

 

June 9, 2007

You’re gonna miss me

Filed under: Film,music — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm

“You’re gonna miss me” opened yesterday at the Cinema Village theater in New York. It is a documentary about Roky Erickson, the lead singer of the 1960s psychedelic rock band The 13th Floor Elevators, who developed schizophrenia just around the time his career was taking off. The film basically answers the question of “whatever happened to Roky Erickson”. In doing so, it sheds light on a moment in American culture and on a very troubled family. Additionally, it shows the redemptive power of a brother’s love.

The 13th Floor Elevators hailed from Austin, Texas, where Roky grew up and now lives. The group had only one big hit, “You’re gonna miss me,” from which the film derives its title. Although the words were originally about lost love, they are equally appropriate to describe the black memory hole that Roky fell into. Despite his obscurity with most rock fans today, who might be more familiar with his historical peers such as Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin, Roky is highly regarded by professional musicians. His singing style, blues in the upper register, was a big influence on Joplin herself and his conceptualization of psychedelic rock had an impact on many bands who visited his native Austin, including Jefferson Airplane.

When the film starts, it would be difficult to connect Roky with the lithe, handsome performer who we see in concert footage from the 1960s and 70s that appear throughout the film. He shambles about in his apartment with a blank expression as three televisions, two radios, and a Casio keyboard are blasting cacophonously in the background. Although the film does not explain the need for this, one can only surmise that it helps to conceal the accusatory voices in his head.

Throughout the film, Roky has very little to say. It is clear that thirty year of mental illness have robbed him of his ability to converse normally. We find out about him from his friends and family, although the portrait that emerges is contradictory. The most distaff note comes from his mother, who is virtually his only connection with the outside world. She is a deeply troubled woman whose belief in “holistic” New Age therapies has convinced her to isolate her son from the professional help and medication he needs. We also meet her youngest son Sumner, who was a tuba player with the Pittsburgh Symphony orchestra and becomes determined to wrest Roky from his mother’s control. He ultimately succeeds and with professional help brings his older brother out of the psychotic hell he has been living in.

If you go to the Roky Erickson website, you will find out about his current situation, which continues on a high note. He will be appearing in concert in England, Sweden, Finland and Denmark this summer and a CD collection drawn from the film will be released in the fall.

“You’re gonna miss me” is just one more indication that human drama is generally to be found in small independent cinema rather than the blockbusters from the Disney or Sony studios. As Hollywood becomes ever more homogenized pumping out formulaic escapist fare that doesn’t even fulfill the elementary need to help one escape as a Fred Astaire musical in the 30s did, we have to turn to financially modest efforts such as “You’re gonna miss me” to truly understand the human condition.

Official Roky Erickson website

NPR feature on Roky Erickson, including performances

June 8, 2007

Your Mommy Kills Animals

Filed under: animal rights,Film — louisproyect @ 5:05 pm

Last night I watched a terrific documentary titled “Your Mommy Kills Animals” that is scheduled for theatrical release on July 20 and will be available on DVD in November. Although I consider myself well-versed in the ideas and activity of the radical movement, director Curtis Johnson uncovers a reality that was hitherto a blur in my mind, namely the animal rights movement. Structured as a debate between opposing sides on the issue, it succeeds both in terms of dispensing information–as any documentary should–as well as telling a highly dramatic story about some unique characters, namely the activists who John Lewis, the FBI’s deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, described as the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat in 2005.

There’s quite a rogue’s gallery in opposition to animal rights. We see Christopher Hitchens holding forth on how the activists become self-righteous absolutists in their desire to crush their enemies. Hearing these words coming out of his mouth was sufficient to get me to bag up all my leather shoes and bring them down to the thrift shop and to swear off chicken and fish (I have already given up red meat because of my blood pressure.) We also see Ron Arnold, the author of “Eco-Terrorism”, making the case against animal rights. Although I am very familiar with Arnold from past debates with his British allies, the ex-Marxists organized around the website Spiked Online, I have never heard him before. Arnold is an odd character. He couches his anti-environmentalist and anti-animal rights arguments in populist rhetoric, but has been exposed as a tool of big timber and mining interests.

But the chief opponent of animal rights heard from is one David Martosko, a truly sleazy character of the sort that has taken money from tobacco companies in the past to argue that smoking is harmless. Martosko works for the Center for Consumer Freedom, one of a number of pro-industry groups set up by Rick Berman, a long-time lobbyist for the food, alcoholic beverage and tobacco industries. The group was created in 1995 as the Guest Choice Network with $600,000 from the Philip Morris tobacco company. Ever since the tobacco companies have been forced to retreat in the face of law suits and exposures, the focus has shifted to new battlegrounds. Apparently, American big business has no patience for unruly protestors who question their right to torture animals in the pursuit of profit.

On the other side of the barricades are people like Kevin Kjonaas, who was among the seven arrested for terrorism in connection with their involvement in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a group that has targeted employees, clients and associates of Huntingdon Life Sciences, a British research company that tests chemicals and drugs on thousands of animals each year. Their appearance and their words are sharply at odds with the allegations. Kjonaas is a wispy 29-year-old Catholic-school graduate who speaks in a high-pitched voice and might remind you of the comic Emo Phillips who was popular in the 1980s. As president of the U.S. affiliate of SHAC USA, Kjonaas posted the home addresses and telephone numbers of Huntingdon executives on the group’s website and organized protests in front of their homes. I can certainly understand why somebody who owns a $5 million townhouse in Manhattan would not want to have such people mounting a noisy demonstration on his sidewalk at 2am, but this hardly amounts to terrorism.

As I watched Kjonaas and other animal rights activists risking arrest and pressing their campaign on a no-holds barred basis, I was struck by the contrast to the mainstream antiwar movement in the United States, which has never reached the same level of militancy and that continues to view elected politicians as reachable. For example, when Medea Benjamin led a Code Pink delegation to Hillary Clinton’s office, she stated “We know that you’re a wonderful woman and that deep down, we really think you agree with us.” If Benjamin and her cohorts had 1/100th of the spunk and the anger of the animal rights protestors, maybe the war would have ended some time ago.

Despite his obvious admiration for Kjonaas and his fellow activists, Curtis Johnson is not a mere apologist. He includes interviews with animal rights activists who believe that SHAC type militancy is counterproductive. They argue that forcing Huntington out of the USA and UK has resulted in it setting up shop in places like Pakistan, where there is much less oversight. By presenting both sides of the argument, he forces us to think about the deeper implications of this type of direct action. Johnson also presents the case against PETA and the Humane Society, two groups that are synonymous with animal rights to the average person, including me. Suffice it to say that animal rights radicals view the big, wealthy mainstream groups in more or less the same way that Earth First! views the Sierra Club or the World Resources Institute.

The film focuses on current day struggles, but does provide a brief background on where the movement comes from. It seems to have gotten started in Great Britain as part of a general movement against capitalist abuses, including child labor, slavery and the poor laws. William Wilberforce, who many of you might be familiar with through my review of “Amazing Grace”, was one of the first animal rights activists and founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Given the obvious moral inspiration of the movement, it might find itself marching to the tune of a different drummer than the Marxist movement that I have been identified with for the past 40 years. Marxism has a tendency to think in terms of objective historical forces and the need to focus on human needs, so the notion of struggling on behalf of laboratory animals being used for critical scientific research might not fit in that well with its agenda. That being said, there are a number of activists in the film that think along the same lines. It is not so much that they oppose animal testing, but the wanton cruelty that attends it.

If it was up to the pseudo-Marxists who morphed into Spiked Online to come up with arguments for exploiting animals as well as nature without regard to moral dimensions or environmental sustainability, there were always other Marxists who saw things in more holistic terms. My good friend Paul Buhle wrote about one of them in the March 1999 edition of Capitalism, Nature and Socialism:

Planetary liberation/animal rights

It may surprise or even annoy CNS readers to learn that perhaps the most popular and successful attack on U.S. corporate farming during the 1990s was launched by Animal Rights leader Henry Spira, notoriously against McDonald’s and Perdue. It should surprise them less that Spira, a Trotskyist of decades standing, had come to environmental causes toward the end of a long career of political activism.

This story demands some extended telling, and Peter Singer’s Ethics Into Action (1998),1 published within weeks of Spira’s death, gives us all the details we could want. Born to Belgian Jews in 1927, refugees first to Panama and then New York, Spira grew up the son of an increasingly successful and oppressive businessman. At 16, he could no longer take the quarreling and left home. (Decades later, both his father and younger sister committed suicide.) As a teen in the early 1940s, he first connected with Hashomir Hatzair, a socialist-zionist organization, then moved on to the Socialist Workers Party. He remained with the SWP for almost 20 years, never feeling disciplined enough to attend meetings but glad to be situated on the Left and sometimes with a newspaper eager to publish his journalism.

Spira later expressed surprise at his own evolution, but many preBoomer Marxists turning to ecology will find the curve of Spiro’s career suspiciously similar to their own. Passing through the Merchant Marine, then drummed out of the Army for “subversive and disloyal activities” (the Workers Defense League helped him win an Honorable Discharge), Spira went to work on an assembly line at a GM plant in New Jersey, moved on to join the research staff at Bellevue Hospital, and then shipped out again. In between jobs, he got a B.A. at Brooklyn College and wrote occasionally for the SWP’s weekly Militant. (He also acquired an FBI file of considerable heft.) As a reporter, he found himself on the scene in Montgomery, as the famed Bus Boycott took shape. Over the next decade, he wrote, raised money for, and often took part in the southern civil rights struggles. He also went to Cuba and broadcast the news about the young revolution. Closer to home, he played a key role in the reform campaign to clean up the National Maritime Union.

By the middle 1960s, Spira’s blue-collar life was over, and we might say that the working class ceased to be his main concern. His excomrades (he also left the Socialist Workers Party about this time) might bemoan the abandonment of orthodox Marxism, and the slippery slope to follow. But Spira was actually moving toward new shores. He taught in New York City schools for seven years, literature and writing to mostly black and Hispanic youngsters. At the age of 45, he also started thinking in a different way about animals.

Reading Peter Singer (the Australian environmentalist and author of Animal Liberation, likewise the author of the biography) helped set Spira in motion, but unlike Singer he wasn’t mainly a theorist. He wanted to do something, and although he didn’t know it yet, Spira had a genius for publicity. As the New York Times recalled in its obit, Singer had two great victories: compelling the American Museum of Natural History to end its expensive and pointless (as well as cruel) mutilation of cats so as to theorize the sexual affects of castration; and compelling Revlon to abandon the “Draize Test,” measuring potential irritation of cosmetic products by flooding rabbits’ eyes with the stuff.

These may not seem anything like victories for the environment; the planet in general and the bird population in particular would be better off with a lot fewer cats about. Neither are rabbits endangered (and some of the habitats invaded by them are in pretty rough shape). But to look at the issues in that way obscures Spira’s basic mentality and his trajectory as well.

A moment’s reflection on the old anti-vivisectionist movement and its U.S. counterparts provides necessary background. Dedicated to oppose cruelty to animals, the Victorian (especially British) middle class movement contained another impulse analogous to that of the old labor movement: to place restraints upon the recklessness of capitalism and raise large philosophical questions about the assumptions of endlessly expansive consumerism as the goal (or rationalization) of society. British socialist Henry S. Salt coined the term “Animals’ Rights” with his 1892 book of the same name, and American radicals from Edward Bellamy and Jack London to Upton Sinclair and the Nearings (Scott and Helen) put their own stamp on the radical edge of the movement. Such radicals, and Auduboners at the turn of the century who successfully ended the ubiquitous annual American bird shooting contests, had no illusions about power. They hardly expected to win more than a limited victory here and there; but they were determined to be heard.

Spira’s own anti-systemic impulse (his Animal Rights International paid him $15,000 per year and he usually had only one part-time assistant) and sense of proportion turned him against the emerging giant of the movement, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. When PETA began acting like a bureaucracy and when other animal rights advocates turned counter-productively violent, he put his energies elsewhere. “Chicken Heaven” was his next target, and there he found common cause with serious environmentalists.

The character of agribusiness poultry and livestock production is no mystery, but the old advertisers’ impulses to portray “contented cows” has been progressively mocked by the factory-like raising conditions, the use of massive chemical doses, above all, for environmentalists, the increasingly toxic effluents in surrounding soil and waterways. Just a decade ago, Spira organized a full-page New York Times ad defying TV huckster Frank Perdue to prove that his fryers lived in “chicken heaven” and (in contrast to consumers’ own lives) “your kids never had it so good.” The appointment of Perdue to the Regents of University of Maryland’s College Park campus offered Spira more grist for his mill; but scandals about the contamination of chickens overtook Spira’s effort. (He did the best he could to raise consciousness further: the next ads featured a chicken in a giant condom above the headline, “There’s no such thing as a safe chicken.”)

Spira continued pretty much this way until his death, in September of 1998. Probably no one else would have had the initiative to shame the Helen Keller International (!) into canceling its “Shoot for Sight” event in 1995, intended on bringing down some thousand wild ducks and pheasants “for a good cause.” Other activists went after Big Mac, but Spira went to the stockholders by becoming one himself. Greenpeace Londoners Helen Steel and Dave Morris personally launched the “McLibel” campaign that gave the corporation a global bad name (even if it formally won a suit against the two). But these efforts also led to the International Coalition for Farm Animals, the Humane Society-type organization so far most devoted to tackling the conditions of production that make cruelty inevitable. The Center for a Liveable Future, ironically Spira’s last project, had (and has) the most potential for serious and socialistic education.

Singer, who runs for office on the Green ticket in his home district of Victoria, Australia, provides a most useful afterward based upon Spira’s own practical experience. Ten key strategic and tactical points include “Avoid bureaucracy,” and “Don’t assume that only legislation or legal action can solve the problem.” As a socialist, he knew better. But Spira had learned, over a lifetime of political experience, how to set targets, how to rally a constituency without the help of any political apparatus to speak of, and how to cross over from pet-linked sentimentalism to the large issues. These are lessons we all need to absorb, and we can thank Spira for adapting Marxist traditions to the new era.

 

June 7, 2007

Six French Films

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

Koch-Lorber is a distribution company for domestic (U.S.) and foreign art films. This is a report on six French films that I received from them over the recent past. All except one are worth renting from your local video store or from Netflix.

Let me get to the runt of the litter first. Made in 1997, “Sombre” is both the title of the film and an implicit reference to the director’s decision to use what appears to be a constantly shaking hand-held camera to film scenes illuminated by a cheap flashlight. I squinted throughout the entire film but probably would have been better off with my eyes closed.

Jean, a serial killer/puppeteer

“Sombre” has three characters: a serial killer named Jean who makes his living as a puppeteer (!) and two sisters named Claire and Christine that he hooks up with. Since he prefers to slash prostitutes, he more or less spares them for the time being. The three drive aimlessly around the French countryside until he finally snaps one night on the side of a lake and tries to rape Christine who has just returned from skinny-dipping. Christine, who is promiscuous and attracted to Jean’s obvious dark side, is saved by Claire, who is a virgin. Claire then sends Christine home and decides to stick with Jean in order to “save” him. In an interview with the famous French film journal Cahiers du cinéma, director Philippe Grandrieux explains his approach to film-making:

What do we seek, since the first traces of hands impressed in rock the long, hallucinated perambulation of men across time, what do we try to reach so feverishly, with such obstinacy and suffering, through representation, through images, if not to open the body’s night, its opaque mass, the flesh with which we think – and present it to the light, to our faces, the enigma of our lives.

He nearly got it right. He created an opaque mess.

I only knew Claude Chabrol as a veteran French director and a member of the New Wave before watching “Comedy of Power” and “Violette.” Regarded as the French Alfred Hitchcock, his favorite themes are crime and murder as these two films demonstrate.

Made in 1978, “Violette” is a biopic about Violette Nozière, an eighteen year old girl who turns tricks in the Latin Quarter in the evenings behind her middle-class parents’ back. In 1933 she kills them in order to get her hands on their household savings, which she intends to turn over to her dissolute, handsome boyfriend Jean Dabin. Violette, who is played by Isabelle Huppert, testifies at her trial that her father had abused her sexually from a very young age but this does not persuade the judges to be lenient.

Violette and client

The film is much less courtroom drama than it is an exploration of the demimonde subculture of the 1930s. For Chabrol, Violette is a kind of Lolita who is very good at getting what she wants from men until she runs into Dabin (Jean-François Garreau), who is even more exploitative than her. The general ambience will remind you of Weimar era decadence of the sort found in “Cabaret.” Huppert is brilliant as Violette and makes this rather cynical, icy film rather appealing.

Isabelle Huppert turns up again in the 2006 “Comedy of Power” as the magistrate Jeanne Charmant-Killman, who is determined to bring down a group of white-collar criminals who are up to their eyeballs in corruption and juggled books in the Enron style. Despite the title, this is no comedy. Once again, as in “Violette,” we are presented with a very cynical view of society. Charmant-Killman is very much a careerist who sees her targets as prey. Once they are “bagged,” she can move up to a higher notch in the French legal system.

Once again, Chabrol’s film is based on a true-life crime incident, namely the investigation of Elf-Aquitaine, the French state-owned energy company that was Enron-like. The chief investigator was Eva Joly, who inspired the Jeanne Charmant-Killman character. The best scenes in the film show her interrogating the crooked executives who find all sorts of ways to rationalize their behavior, including one man who quips that bribery is the lubricant that makes business work. We have not traveled that far from Balzac, who began “Pere Goriot” with the observation that “Behind every fortune lies a great crime.”

Like “Comedy of Power,” the 2005 “Le Petite Lieutenant” also features a woman in charge, in this case the middle-aged Commandant Caroline “Caro” Vaudieu (Nathalie Baye), who runs a police station in Paris that the young Antoine Derouère (Jalil Lespert) has just picked to work in. (In France, graduates of the police academy can choose their own workplace.)

Derouère, the “Petite Lieutenant,” is little more than a boy in a man’s body. When he is driving down the street with the siren on, he beams like a child. At night he fondles his gun while lying in bed. Eventually he is knifed by a Russian immigrant worker during an arrest, while his partner is off drinking beer in violation of departmental regulations. The remainder of the film consists of Commandant Vaudieu and her men trying to track down the Russian and his partner, who have been responsible for robberies and killings in their precinct.

Directed by Xavier Beauvois, the film is resolutely unromantic. The cops are seen as flawed human beings including the Commandant who likes to smoke pot on the job and tries unsuccessfully to seduce Derouère. All in all, it is a more sophisticated version of “nitty-gritty” TV shows like NYPD Blue, The Wire and The Shield. It makes for lively viewing, but leaves one a bit troubled by the choice of bad guys. With Le Pen and Sarkozy on the rise when this film was made, the decision to make a couple of immigrant workers thieves and murderers seems ill-timed.

 

Alain Resnais

Made in 1963, “Muriel” is one of the first films to take up the question of the war in Algeria. (Jean-Luc Godard’s “Le petit soldat” was made two years earlier.) Directed by Alain Resnais of “Last Year in Marienbad” and “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” fame, it is focused on four characters. Hélène (Delphine Seyrig) is a middle-aged antique dealer who has invited her old flame Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Kérien) for a visit. He inexplicably brings his young mistress Françoise (Nita Klein) along with him but continues to try to get Hélène into bed. After she keeps refusing him, he asks–reasonably–why she ever invited him. She confesses that she really doesn’t know–par for the course for this rather mystifying film. Bernard (Jean-Baptise Thiérrée), Hélène’s stepson, has just returned from serving in Algeria where he has participated in the torture of a woman named “Muriel” and is suffering from posttraumatic stress, although his symptoms fall more within the category of capricious behavior rather than depression. In some ways, it is difficult to figure out whether his strange behavior is a function of his experience in Algeria or Resnais’s esthetic, which is reminiscent of Buñuel’s drawing room surrealism.

To give credit where credit is due, Resnais signed the 1960 Declaration on the Right to Insubordination in the War in Algeria along with Sartre and other prominent intellectuals. Surprisingly, Godard’s name is not among the 121. The surrealist touches in “Muriel” are somewhat dated, but the horror over Algeria is not.

To conclude on the note of dated surrealist techniques, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s 1983 “La Belle Captive” is an entertaining but somewhat unintentionally funny experimentalist exercise. It stars Daniel Mesguich as Walter Raim, a gangster of some sort who we meet in a nightclub getting soused as couples dance the tango, including the fetching Marie-Ange van de Reeves (Gabrielle Lazure). Later that night Raim is sent by his boss, the motorcycle-riding Sara Zeitgeist (Cyrielle Claire), to deliver a message to a certain Ambassador.

 

Rene Magritte, La Belle Captive

On his way, Raim discovers Marie lying unconscious in the street and brings her to a nearby house where he is greeted by a group of very strange men. He spends the night with Marie, only to discover that she is a vampire. Periodically, an image of a Rene Magritte painting appears like a leitmotiv, although its exact connection to the vampire Marie is not clear. Par for the course in surrealism, I suppose. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Robbe-Grillet is best known as a novelist and screenwriter, having worked with Resnais on “Last Year at Marienbad”. All in all, the film is beautiful to look at and diverting in its own quirky way as well–rather like a Ridley Scott Chanel commercial.

June 6, 2007

NACLA on RCTV

Filed under: Venezuela — louisproyect @ 1:54 pm

Eric Biewener, NACLA correspondent

Over the years I have called attention to NACLA’s depressing drift to the right. The latest instance is a report from Venezuela on the RCTV controversy by Eric Biewener, a young man who graduated from Harvard University last year. His report can be found here:

http://news.nacla.org/2007/06/04/venezuela-propaganda-blurs-the-lines/

If you really want to understand his hostility to Chavez, it helps to understand his general hostility to radical measures, as indicated by his blog entry below. Frankly, my advice to NACLA is this. If you want to hire freelancers to write counter-revolutionary tripe, you might want to choose more carefully since this character couldn’t get a job at New Republic.

—-

So the entire time I’ve been in Venezuela (2 months now), I’ve been trying to figure out why the grocery stores I go to don’t always have chicken or beef. I thought at first that it had to do with the time of day that I went… then I thought that maybe I was going to a crappy grocery store (I was, I now use a better one… but still the same problem with the meat)… then I thought, well, maybe this is just how shit works in Venezuela.

Then, while reading an article about rural land redistribution, it hit me: this IS how shit works in Venezuela. See, the rural land redistribution works like this: some squatters go and burn down a big rancher’s crops, tell him that they own the land now, and then demand that Chávez let them keep the land, which he often does. As a result, lot’s of once productive land is now being used by people who either don’t really know what they’re doing, don’t have the capital to do it, or both. Also, once productive land owners are no longer investing in their land or animals because they fear that it will be a waste. Why grow sugar cane or raise a chicken when some squatter is just going to take it away from you with the blessing of the federal government?

http://theperiphery.wordpress.com/2007/05/23/wheres-the-beef/

June 5, 2007

Longing (Sehnsucht)

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 6:32 pm

Scheduled for a June 22 opening at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, “Longing” (Sehnsucht) will remind you of the work of Belgian directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. The Dardennes use nonprofessional actors in a super-naturalistic setting that eschews conventional melodramatic techniques. Their characters come out of the working class and are faced with some moral dilemma tied to broader social issues. For example, their most successful film “La Promesse” features a son breaking with his father’s racist treatment of undocumented African workers but is much more about their filial ties than the plight of immigrants.

“Longing” is directed by Valeska Grisebach, a 39 year old German who studied philosophy and German literature before starting a career in film. She appropriates the Dardenne’s style, but dispenses with their tendency to employ a backdrop involving socioeconomic issues. It of course must be added that their most recent films do so as well.

 

Ella, Markus’s wife

“Longing” tells the story of Markus and Ella, a happily married couple in their thirties who live in a rural village near Berlin. She is a part-time domestic and he is a metalworker and a member of the local volunteer fire department. When he and his company go for training in a nearby town, he gets drunk at a party for the firemen and spends the night with a waitress named Rose. After returning home, he makes periodic trips to visit Rose who he has fallen for. But at the same time his love for his wife is as strong as ever.

Eventually Ella finds out about his affair and moves out. Grief-stricken, Markus goes into a barn and shoots himself in the chest with a shotgun. That is about all there is to the story, except for a denouement that leaves you hanging. In keeping with the Dardenne’s vision, Grisebach is anxious to avoid any kind of pat conclusions. We do not even know which woman Markus ends up with.

Despite the threadbare quality of the film, it manages to hold your attention through its immersion in the detail of its characters life. The film has almost a documentary quality as we see them going about their daily chores or engaging in leisure activity in a typical small town German. Grisebach also draws out excellent performances from her actors, even though they are in many ways simply representing who they are in real life. Markus is played by Andreas Müller, an auto mechanic who is active in his own fire department in Brandenburg, while Ilka Welz plays Ella. She is a nurse who works in a Berlin hospital.

In the press notes, Grisebach says that she decided to tell this story because of its simplicity, which was like a country song that “can be passed on, just as the children do at the end of the film.” I can understand her decision since the film reminded me of an old blues songs like “Frankie and Johnnie” or “Careless Love”. Some things like a lovers’ triangle are part of our universal experience, much more so than the typical Hollywood fare that conforms to some production company’s profit-driven idea of what people care about.

June 1, 2007

Robert Brenner and primitive accumulation

Filed under: transition debate — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

(This is the first in a series of articles on the Brenner thesis, aka the Transition Debate)

A series of blog entries on Lenin’s Tomb defending the Brenner thesis has inspired and piqued me to return to the transition debate. Richard Seymour, aka Leninology, is a graduate student originally from Ireland and a member of the British SWP. In keeping with “Leninist norms,” the SWP does not have public debates about current campaigns or on the “Russian question”, but members do express a range of opinions about the “transition debate”. For instance, party leader Chris Harman has debated Robert Brenner, defending a position more or less midway between Brenner and Jim Blaut.

For people unfamiliar with this debate, a word or two might be useful. In the 1950s, there was a series of exchanges between Paul Sweezy and Maurice Dobb over the origins of capitalism prompted by Sweezy’s review of Dobb’s “Studies in the Development of Capitalism” in Science and Society. Dobb was seen as explaining the rise of capitalism as a function of the introduction of market mechanisms in the British countryside, while Sweezy emphasized a rise in international trade in the late Middle Ages especially with Asian countries, largely on the basis of research by Henri Pirenne.

The debates simmered on through the 1960s but took on a new intensity after Robert Brenner published a couple of articles in the mid-70’s defending a more extreme version of Dobb’s approach. While Sweezy and Dobb maintained a rather collegial tone with each other (both were admirers of Stalin’s USSR), Brenner was far more polemical. In 1977, he wrote a NLR article titled “The Origins of Capitalist Development: A Critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism” that charged Sweezy with mixing Adam Smith and Karl Marx, a rather amazing achievement. The article summed up Brenner’s scholarly findings on the agrarian origins of capitalism as well as took issue with the “Third Worldism” of Monthly Review authors who had become identified with something called “dependency theory”. In a nutshell, dependency theory can be described in Andre Gunder Frank’s words as “the development of underdevelopment” under imperialism, an idea that always made sense to me in light of my travels in Nicaragua, Zambia and Tanzania more than 25 years ago. Brenner wrote:

Most directly, of course, the notion of the ‘development of underdevelopment’ opens the way to third-worldist ideology. From the conclusion that development occurred only in the absence of links with accumulating capitalism in the metropolis, it can be only a short step to the strategy of semi-autarkic socialist development. Then the utopia of socialism in one country replaces that of the bourgeois revolution—one moreover, which is buttressed by the assertion that the revolution against capitalism can come only from the periphery, since the proletariat of the core has been largely bought off as a consequence of the transfer of surplus from the periphery to the core.

In the next and concluding paragraph of this article, Brenner pins his hopes on “the current economic impasse of capitalism for working-class political action in the advanced industrial countries.” While I have neither the time nor the interest to pull together and analyze all the disparate elements of Brenner’s political thinking, this rather breathless over-projection of the tempo of the class struggle in 1977 suggests a certain affinity with another controversial article he wrote for the NLR 11 years later titled “The Economics of Global Turbulence” that basically predicted a Great Depression type meltdown in terms familiar to those who read the In Defense of Marxism website or the Militant newspaper.

As it turns out, the advanced capitalist countries have not collapsed and the “third world” struggles that Brenner dismissed continue to roil world politics. More recently, Brenner has pulled back a bit from the catastrophism of the 1998 article and has adopted a more cautious outlook, which amounted to calling for a Kerry vote in the last election.

One of the things that caught my eye when reading Richard’s blog was a comment about “primitive accumulation”. Citing Ellen Meiksins Wood, Richard writes:

For Marx’s truly Marxist take, we need to Grundrisse and Capital. In his account of “the so-called primitive accumulation” of capital, Marx moves from a conception of capital as wealth and trade to an understanding of capital as embodying a specific social relation.

Accumulation, whether from imperial theft or commerce, is not sufficient to create capitalism – it is not merely an augmentation of commerce.

A few paragraphs later, citing Robert Brenner’s “Merchants and Revolution,” Richard asserts that the East India Company was not part of this “social relation” primitive accumulation but merely another instance of commerce augmenting commerce, so to speak:

If you happen to have this book, and have been desperately flipping through pages of detail about the development of commerce, the rise of the merchant opposition, the East India company, the colonies and so on in search of the heuristic, here’s a tip: it’s in the postscript. Brenner goes to great labours to show that the merchant class was not a revolutionary class devoted to the overthrow of feudalism.

I scratched my head when I read this and wondered why it didn’t sit right with me. I then googled “East India Company” and “Karl Marx” and came up with a link to chapter 31 in volume one of Capital (“The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist”) that referred to the East India Company as an example of “primitive accumulation . . .without the advance of a shilling.” Reading further, I discovered that chapter 31 was riddled with reference to colonies and various forms of non-market activity as expressions of primitive accumulation:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation.

The different momenta of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive at a systematical combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But, they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.

In order to understand where Wood got her ideas on primitive accumulation, you can turn to Brenner’s 1977 NLR article, where there’s also an attempt to define primitive accumulation strictly in terms of the British peasants being separated from their means of production. It is based on what Marx wrote in chapter 26 (“The Secret of Primitive Accumulation”) of Capital:

As Marx puts it [in chapter 26], ‘There can therefore be nothing more ridiculous than to conceive this original formation of capital as if capital had stockpiled and created the objective conditions of production—necessaries, raw materials, instruments—and then offered them to the worker, who was bare of these possessions.’ (Marx’s emphasis). At the same time, ‘In themselves, money and commodities are no more capital than the means of production and subsistence are. They need to be transformed into capital . . . So-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production.’

Well, that’s true–as far as it goes. If Marx had never written chapter 31 with all those references to colonization, slavery and trading monopolies being necessary for the birth of industrial capitalism, then Brenner and Wood would have a more convincing case.

But it is not just chapter 31 of Capital. While the “nothing else” quote from chapter 26 offered up by Brenner like a lawyer summarizing his case is quite convincing, there are contradictory, even neo-Smithian presentations of the problem by Marx and Engels, to use Brenner’s terminology. Take for example the Communist Manifesto, which is about as central to the Marxist literature as you can get. The first section on “Bourgeois and Proletarians” deals with the origins of the bourgeoisie:

From the serfs of the Middle Ages sprang the chartered burghers of the earliest towns. From these burgesses the first elements of the bourgeoisie were developed.

The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.

This seems rather straightforward, doesn’t it? The bourgeoisie came from the towns, not the countryside, and “trade with the colonies” (plunder, in actuality) gave an impulse to the “revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society“. If, according to Richard, “Brenner goes to great labours to show that the merchant class was not a revolutionary class devoted to the overthrow of feudalism,” why didn’t he take the additional step to explain why Marx came up with all these “neo-Smithian” formulations in volume one of Capital and the Communist Manifesto? It doesn’t really require “great labours” to do so, only access to a personal computer and a knowledge of how to use google. Now I understand that google didn’t exist in 1977, but surely somebody with Brenner’s reputation as a world-class Marxist scholar would have taken the trouble to check the index of volume one of Capital for all occurrences of “primitive accumulation,” not just ones cherry-picked to support his own thesis.

It is also worth considering whether or not the chapter 26 definition of primitive accumulation (internal; market-oriented; agrarian) makes sense in Marx’s own terms. Keep in mind that Marx was trying to refute Adam Smith, who believed that thrift could explain the original capital that was used to fund manufacturing and industry. If this is the case, what does the Enclosure Acts, etc. really have to do with making capital available? Creating market conditions in the British countryside does not necessarily lead to a pool of capital. It seems much more likely that piracy, slavery, and colonialism will do the trick.

In my own view, the fact that Marx contradicts himself in chapters 26 and 31 simply points to a weakness in his approach to the problem of how capitalism arose. While most of his efforts were focused on identifying its origins within Western European countries, and Great Britain in particular, there was never that much attention paid to Africa, Latin America or Asia. And when he did turn his attention to Asia, he was wrong as the “Asiatic Mode of Production” would indicate. Despite his references to the East India Company, slavery and silver mining, you cannot really find a fully developed analysis of the mode of production in the colonial world. And the one reference that does exist–chapter 33 of Capital, v. 1, titled “The Modern Theory of Colonisation”–is curiously silent on the topic of slavery and indigenous peoples. Over the summer as I blog on these topics, I will try to sketch out an approach that does justice to colonial capitalism.

I want to conclude with a discussion of what Maurice Dobb had to say about non-market forces in the early stages of capitalism. Despite Robert Brenner’s efforts to represent himself as carrying on the tradition of Maurice Dobb, there are ample signs that the British historian believed that “extra-economic” factors were critical to the development of capitalism in Great Britain. His arguments can be found in chapter 5 of “Studies in the Development of Capitalism” (aptly titled “Capital Accumulation and Mercantilism”) and can be summarized in his own words as follows:

In short, the Mercantile System was a system of State-regulated exploitation through trade which played a highly important role in the adolescence of capitalist industry: it was essentially the economic policy of primitive accumulation.

In trying to explain the origins of capitalism, Dobb takes exactly the opposite approach from Robert Brenner: “Least of all was it [capital accumulation] likely to happen under conditions approximating to free markets and perfect competition.” Indeed, in order for capitalism to take root in Great Britain, it was necessary to resort to the practices described in chapter 31 of Capital. Specifically, “there was a great deal of seizure of property and simple plunder” in order for the new bourgeoisie to assert itself. Not only was plunder necessary, an influx of precious metals in the sixteenth century created the price-inflation that could result into the transfer of land into bourgeois hands.

For Dobb, the Tudor age (1485-1603) was all about plowing colonial profits into new enterprises:

Moreover, there were indirect ways in which the prosperity of foreign trade in the Tudor Age aided industrial development in the ensuing century. Some of the fortunes made by foreign adventurers no doubt eventually found their way into industrial enterprise; while, as we shall presently see, the expansion of overseas markets, especially colonial markets, in the seventeenth century, to some extent acted as a lever to the profitability of manufacture at home.

Finally, in sharp opposition to Robert Brenner, Maurice Dobb believed that in the early days of capitalism, the British bourgeoisie sought to curtail competition. Until the labor-saving devices of the industrial revolution became available to them, they would find ways to avoid direct competition with other emerging capitalist powers. This is why trading monopolies like the East India Company were crucial for the subsequent development of free trade policies. Dobb writes, “But until the vast potentialities of the new mechanical age, and of the new division of labour introduced by machinery, had become apparent, it was understandable that even the most enterprising of the bourgeoisie should look to trade regulation and political privilege for the assurance that his enterprise would prove profitable.”

In this period, when Great Britain sought to sell its products overseas, it took full advantage of what Brenner calls “extra-economic” forces. In other words, it sought to avoid competition through political pressure just as any aspiring capitalist power does in the early stages of its development. Dobb writes:

This political pressure often sufficed, indeed, to make colonial trade forced trading and the profit from it indistinguishable from plunder. Tudor voyages of discovery (in Sombart’s words) “were often nothing more than well-organized raiding expeditions to plunder lands beyond the seas.”

In other words, Dobb agreed with Karl Marx that:

The system of protection was an artificial means of manufacturing manufacturers, of expropriating independent labourers, of capitalising the national means of production and subsistence, of forcibly abbreviating the transition from the medieval to the modern mode of production. The European states tore one another to pieces about the patent of this invention, and, once entered into the service of the surplus-value makers, did not merely lay under contribution in the pursuit of this purpose their own people, indirectly through protective duties, directly through export premiums.

As Michael Lebowitz put it in a comment on PEN-L, ” As for Brenner/Wood, they are certainly welcome to use any definition they want of capitalism— trying to pass it off as Marx’s understanding of capitalism and its tendencies is another matter, though.”

In my next post, I will explain why Robert Brenner gets it wrong in trying to apply the template of the free-market industrial revolution period to a much earlier age.

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